AMC Theaters. Do They Even Hear Us?


I recently have been writing about my disdain for AMC Theaters and I wanted to mention that I’ve been trying to contact the right people to try to at least reach someone in a position of authority that can explain to me why the experience at an AMC theater has to be so awful. The problem is that, like many large companies—especially those that have customer complaint issues—all paths lead to a dead end. I can write a letter to them at a Georgia address even though their corporate headquarters is located in Kansas. That tells me I’m writing to some department where my comments will just fall on deaf ears. I’ve called the theaters themselves but they’re part of the problem and supplied no solutions to the concerns.

To recap, I took a moment to go over the pros and cons of the local AMC here in Cherry Hill. It’s a 24-screen facility that opened a few years back and was originally owned and operated by Lowes. Everyone was initially impressed with it but then the luster wore off shortly thereafter.

On the plus side it has 24 screens and several of them are in very good shape with decent seats and good stadium positioning. The sound in several of them is quite good. The building is also a beautiful design with lots of open space and attractive styling. It does offer an array of foods as well.

The down side, unfortunately, is quite long and annoying. For starters the theaters are often dirty with cups and trash left from the previous show. On busy nights the trash often overflows onto the floor. The great look of the design and open areas are not in play when it comes to the flow of the main area. In leaving the theater you often have to fight your way through throngs of people backed up by the restrooms. It always feels like a zoo.

While they have a lot of different food choices their drink choices can be limited. Until recently you couldn’t even get lemonade or iced tea there (I still don’t think they have the former). If you don’t want soda then your option is water or fruit punch. The concession lines are often long and poorly laid out adding to the flow issue.

The employees on hand are at the extreme bottom end of quality standards. Few there look like they care about their jobs and act accordingly. You can sense that it’s a job environment they don’t enjoy. I worked at a theater in my teens and found it to be a great early job. Clearly something else is wrong here. Adding to this is that a surprising number of staff can’t even speak English. Several times I’ve asked a passing employee for information only to get a “deer-in-the-headlights look” and a shaking head.

If this wasn’t bad enough then there’s the cost. AMC has among the absolute highest prices for tickets in the area. Their “bargain” prices are often higher than the regular price of competing theaters. Then there’s the exorbitant costs of their concessions. Seeing a movie here turns out to be more expensive than going to a rather nice restaurant at times.

On top of all of this is the experience itself which is almost guaranteed to be lousy. I find a much higher percentage of people frequenting this theater to be seriously lacking in any sort of compassion for their fellow theater-goers. I mentioned that in seeing the latest movie here the experience was dominated by wide-spread and continual use of cell phones during the movie. People think nothing of openly talking during a showing here. There’s just no control to be found.

Taken alone all but the last item could be minimal (though still in need of addressing) but when you combine them all the result is that going to AMC means I pay more to fight unnecessary crowds, sit in filth and not enjoy the film I’m there to see. Why bother?

I also don’t feel this is the fault of the patrons. Many of these people appear to be very much the same as those I find at other theaters. The difference is in the environment. There’s a famous case involving a man named Bernie Getz who shot several kids on a subway in New York City. When asked why he bought a gun and felt so aggressive towards the kids (they were intent on mugging him) he said that when you live in a rat hole you start to feel like a rat. The police chief recognized this feeling and how things like this and graffiti played a role in lowering the morality of everyone. Take a look at any movie shot in the city in the 70’s and 80’s and compare it to the city today. It’s night and day. The city back then looked like Gotham City—dark, dank and dirty.

The city attacked the so-called “small things” like fare-beaters (those hopping over turnstiles to get on the subway which was rampant at the time) and fought off the graffiti artists. In short order people started caring about their environment and took it upon themselves to keep the inertia going. Crime rates plummeted and people’s opinion of the city dramatically improved.

AMC should employ the same type of thinking. Clean up the bottlenecks in the flow of their buildings. Clear the trash each screening. Most of all adopt a near-zero tolerance for disturbances during films. Send in managers (in business attire) before selected showings to explain that anyone found to be texting or using their phones during a movie will be ejected from the film.

Everyone knows it’s wrong and they just don’t care any longer. Twice notice is given around previews laying out the expectations but to no effect. When people see everyone around them ignoring the rules it makes the group feel like idiots for not doing it themselves. Police the theaters with multiple ushers until the situation comes back into balance. Soon patrons will realize this sort of behavior is no longer acceptable and the patrons themselves will keep the one or two instances of poor judgment under control.

The end result will be happier patrons, happier staff and higher profits. Why this sort of message cannot reach anyone at AMC with the ability to effect change I don’t know. If anyone knows someone’s e-mail in corporate management please let me know. I see upwards of 50 movies a year at the theater and for me to only see one or two per year at an otherwise nice facility is just sad.

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